Thanks to partnership, program resumes hot meals in Orange

  • Franklin County Community Meals Program Executive Director Rachel Berggren and Hillside Organic Catering co-owner Patrick O’Hearn outside the rear entrance to the Orange Armory, where hot meals and packaged foods are handed out on Thursdays from 5 to 5:30 p.m. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

  • Hillside Organic Catering has partnered with the Franklin County Community Meals Program to provide hot, prepared meals at the Orange Armory each Thursday. Last week involved pulled pork macaroni and cheese with a side salad for 50 people. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

  • Hillside Organic Catering has partnered with the Franklin County Community Meals Program to provide hot, prepared meals at the Orange Armory each Thursday. Last week involved pulled pork macaroni and cheese with a side salad for 50 people.

Staff Writer
Published: 2/15/2021 6:22:56 PM

ORANGE — Thanks to a new partnership with local restaurants, the Franklin County Community Meals Program has been able to resume serving hot meals to those in need in Orange for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Franklin County Community Meals Program Executive Director Rachel Berggren explained that while staff have been distributing nonperishable food through the Orange Food Pantry, due to health safety restrictions imposed by the Orange Board of Health, they were unable to offer to-go meals until last Thursday, which saw Hillside Organic Catering from Bernardston bring hot meals to the Orange Armory at 135 East Main St.

Patrick O’Hearn, who owns Hillside Organic Catering with his wife Cindy, prepared, packaged and delivered pulled pork macaroni and cheese with a side salad for 50 people. The program will continue weekly at the rear of the Orange Armory, from 5 to 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays.

Meals will be served on a first-come, first-served basis, and anyone is eligible. Berggren anticipates increasing the number of meals served each week as the new partnership continues.

“There are no qualifying factors, just show up and we will feed you,” she said. “We’ve already heard from the community that there is more interest, so we anticipate meal numbers will rise.”

Berggren said the meals program connected with Hillside Organic Catering in hopes of partnering with businesses to “support the local food system holistically, from the restaurant to the people in need.”

After hearing about the opportunity, Patrick O’Hearn said he and Cindy simply wanted to help. He said it was fulfilling to be working in the kitchen, and to know where the food was going.

“We wanted to be part of something different, something that’s gonna help,” O’Hearn said. “We have the space, we have the skill. We have our health. ... We’re just grateful. Grateful that we can be helping in some capacity.”

As an experienced catering company, O’Hearn said Hillside Organic Catering was well-equipped to prepare and deliver hot meals for distribution. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Berggren said the Franklin County Community Meals program has been unable to serve hot meals in Orange because the program operates out of facilities owned by other entities, and does not own any commercial properties itself.

“We rent church kitchens, and this is a community center,” she said Thursday, gesturing to the Orange Armory. “With our other meal sites we also had a pause in our ability to use the kitchen, but this site has been the longest as far as turnaround. They, as a town, decided that they will not reopen until COVID is eradicated.”

The Franklin County Community Meals Program also operates meal sites at the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m., and at Our Lady of Peace Church in Turners Falls on Mondays from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

This inability for the meals program to prepare hot food on its own led to the development of the partnership with local restaurants, beginning with Hillside Organic Catering. Berggren also said the partnership was made possible thanks to volunteers Lynn and Ralph Carpenter, who were willing to drive to restaurants and back to deliver the meals to the Orange Armory.

“We’re trying to support local restaurants in need,” Berggren said. “And they’re really supporting us.”

She said the hurdles brought on by the lasting COVID-19 pandemic have challenged the Franklin County Community Meals Program to find different avenues for partnerships, as has been the case with the Thursday meal program. It has also encouraged staff to consider building these programs to have the infrastructure in place if another virus outbreak or other emergency occurs.

The meals program has also partnered with Hillside Pizza owners Craig and Amy White, who will provide frozen “take and bake” pizzas for the Orange Food Pantry each month. Berggren said the Whites plan to provide enough so that each family that relies on the pantry will receive one frozen pizza each month.

Those who are in need of food but do not have the ability to get to the Orange Armory can contact Berggren to discuss possible delivery within Orange. Berggren can be reached for questions related to the meals, and dietary restrictions, at fccmp.ma@gmail.com and 413-772-1033.

Anyone who wishes to “sponsor” a weekly meal by donating toward the cost, either in support of Hillside Organic Catering, the Franklin County Community Meals Program or both, can also contact Berggren to discuss donation payment methods.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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